The name Alan Freeman might not ring many bells outside of Mayo, but he is fast becoming a household name, Liam McDermott writes.

Sean Flanagan marched up the Hogan stand to collect the Sam Maguire for the second year in a row for Mayo. They roared into the history books with a direct style of football that no team could contain and with players that were the envy of every other team in the country. The Mayo captain and his colleagues must have felt another title was just around the corner; but that was back in 1951. It’s 2011 and sixty years on from that glorious Mayo victory. With the championship just around the corner, the future looks bright and one particular player is certain to be at the heart of any success the Green and Red.

The name Alan Freeman might not ring many bells outside of Mayo, but he is fast becoming a household name. Like Mayo legend Sean Flanagan, he hails from the small but fiercely proud footballing village of Aghamore on the east side of the county.

Last year was not a good year to say the least for the Mayo senior footballers. It started brightly with some good form in the league which led to the Division 1 final. The men from the West met a far superior Cork side in GAA HQ. Haunted by the typical lack of clinical finishing that seems to follow the words “Mayo” and “Croke Park” at each outing, the red and green were beaten by 1-17 to 0-12. The championship proved to be no better and after being put to the sword by Sligo, and eliminated outright by Longford.

One of few positives from the year was the emergence of Alan Freeman. The 22-year-old from Aghamore has been regarded in the county as one of the finest attacking operators, so it was only a matter of time before he got his chance for the seniors. When he got that chance last year he grabbed it with both hands. Only five short minutes into his championship debut against Sligo, he had a personal tally of 1-2 and he has built on that early promise. Defeats to Longford and Sligo meant it was a short year, which he was “was disappointing but it was my first year and it’s a learning curve. I think a lot of the younger lads especially learnt a lot from it”.

Freeman is currently studying for a Masters degree in the Dublin Institute of Technology and has a scholarship for Gaelic football. While some players may feel pressured into playing rather than studying, it isn’t one he feels. “There was never any pressure put on me but for me sport would always come first. Even if I had a lecture I would nearly always go and play sport, it’s just how I am”.

As the Championship will soon be upon us, it’s clear that it’s on his mind. “The players and James (Horan, Mayo manager) talked at the beginning of the year and our goal was to stay up in the league. We have done that and for the championship it’s all about taking it one game at a time but I think a Connacht title is the minimum aim”.

Even after training and college there is little time left to relax as so much of his time is spent perfecting his craft. “I’d be training two or three times a week but outside of training I’d be in the gym as well maybe two or three times. I’d watch a few DVDs to relax or even just laze around the house at home on a Saturday evening”.

Young Irish players are constantly being tempted to Australia with the promise of playing a professional sport. However, the bright lights of Sydney or Melbourne have never had a hold on Alan. “I’m 22-years-old now so I could be considered too old. I played in some of the trials for the international rules and I enjoyed it. Plus, there is the idea of being a professional sportsman but it wouldn’t interest me”.

James Horan has brought in a lot of new players in the league, so competition for places will be as fierce as ever. Despite constant heartbreak over the years, the Green and Red county have always had high expectations, and Alan Freeman is sure to be a key figure in reaching their potential.